Surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is one of the most common operations performed on adults in the United States and Canada every year.
Many adults suffer from gallbladder problems during middle or late adulthood, especially women, who develop gallstones much more than men do.
Turns out, the gallbladder is kinda important! and removal of the gallbladder does NOT treat the root cause of your health issues.
WHAT IS THE GALLBLADDER?
The gallbladder is a little pouch that sits under the liver on the right side of your rib cage.
The gallbladder’s role is in digestion, This small, pear-shaped organ stores small amounts of bile that are released into the small intestine after eating to aid in the digestion of fats. However, it can also become the source of painful and troublesome symptoms should it become inflamed or develop gallstones. Gallstones happen when the bile becomes sludgy and thick and congests inside of the gallbladder. Usually this is a collection of mucus, cholesterol crystals, calcium bilirubinate and calcium salts. When bile becomes too thick, it then alters the gallbladder's ability to contract, impairing digestive function and can be a medical emergency.
How it works
The liver makes bile then gives it to the gallbladder like, "Here, hold onto this until I need it." Then, you release bile when you eat fat to help digest and absorb it.
THE GALLBLADDER'S ROLE IN DIGESTION
If your gallbladder is congested (from the bile becoming too thick- known as cholestasis or "bile sludge") then this will lead to undigested fat and increase your chances of bile stones. Undigested fats can also lead to poor sphincter function in the digestive tract, which facilitates the transport of bacteria from the large intestine into the small intestine, causing a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO for short. SIBO causes myriad symptoms, including chronic constipation, chronic diarrhea, or both. Bloating is also common with SIBO.
Bile sludge backs up the liver’s detoxification pathways. As a result, the liver cannot effectively detoxify hormones, toxins, and other metabolites. This increases the toxic burden on your system, which in turn increases inflammation.
Most commonly, if bile isn't moving well, we can experience a sudden onset of pain just underneath your right ribcage, in your abdomen, occasionally associated with heartburn, nausea, gas and fullness.
Other symptoms of gallbladder issues include:
floating and greasy stools
pain between the shoulder blades
A chronic ache in your abdomen that intensifies after eating
Bile's important role In Detoxification
Your liver makes bile. Your gallbladder concentrates and releases bile.
Bile is precious, so the body recycles 90+% of bile produced. This is beneficial for nutrient preservation. However, in a toxic environment, this can lead to a majority of toxins being recirculated, forcing the liver to continually reprocess them.
A healthy formation, secretion and flow of bile is super important. If you have gallbladder sludge or stones you might struggle with detoxification and estrogen detoxification.
Other Reasons we NEED Bile for optimal health
Helps you absorb fats and fat soluble vitamins. Breaks down dietary cats and assists the body with nutrient absorption of fat soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K.
Detoxification; Helps remove toxins, prescription medicines, excess hormones and heavy metals from the body. Bile is critical to the detoxification of lipid-soluble toxins: mold toxins, pesticides, and industrial toxins.
Has antibacterial properties to sterilize unwanted guests. Protects your digestive tract from pathogens, SIBO, etc.
Assists with regulating inflammatory response.
Proper bile movement is protective to mitochondria.
Regulates thyroid hormones as it triggers the enzyme that activates conversion of T4 over to T3. A sluggish thyroid also slows down bile flow.
Keeps things moving through your Gastrointestinal tract at the correct pace.
Important for blood sugar and fatty acid metabolism.
Act as a Pac-Man to gobble up impurities in the liver and intestinal villi.
Buffer stomach acid, allowing optimal acid to break down challenging foods.
What factors contribute to gallbladder issues?
These can include obesity, eating a poor diet that contributes to nutrient deficiencies, rapid weight loss, taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills), food allergies, environmental toxins and hormone disrupting chemicals, parasites like liver flukes (which can block the bile duct), and certain genetic factors.
How to improve gallbladder health and Support Healthy Bile flow
1. Change Your Diet
Stop eating crap like refined sugars, flours and inflammatory packaged foods. Instead add in a variety of fiber, quality proteins, fats, vegetables and fruits. Fast foods, processed oils, and fatty packaged meats or cheese can be some of the hardest foods to properly digest. To cut the amount of unhealthy fats in your diet, reduce intake of lunch/deli meats, convenience foods like chips or cookies, salami and other cured meats, pork products, processed dairy, and conventional, grain-fed animal meat.
2. Eat healthy fats regularly:
Coconut oil contains one of the easiest forms of fat for the body to digest, called medium-chained fatty acids. Try and consume healthy fats in small amounts over the course of the day, only about one tablespoon of oil at one time, or about two tablespoons of sprouted nuts and seeds. This is because you don’t want to over consume fats, which puts more stress on the liver and gallbladder. Extra virgin olive oil is another anti-inflammatory fat with many benefits. Avocados and fatty fish like sardines and wild salmon are other great fats to consume.
3. Consume Bitters like Apple cider vinegar, dandelion, milk thistle:
Dandelion root (500 milligrams with meals) — Dandelion has been used for centuries to improve multiple digestive processes, support health of the liver and regulate use of bile.
Milk thistle (150 milligrams twice daily) — It’s been shown that milk thistle increases bile flow and aids the liver and gallbladder in detoxification. Research has found that milk thistle is a natural hepatoprotective (liver protector) and works in some of the following ways: It has antioxidant activity, is a toxin blockade at the membrane level, enhances protein synthesis, and is also capable of producing anti-inflammatory or immunomodulating effects.
Liver-G.I. Detox by Pure Encapsulations is a product I recommend.
(You can access this product on my Fullscript Dispensary Website.)
4. Identify where you are feeling "stuck" in life
In Chinese Medicine its emphasized that excess emotional activity can cause imbalances in the body and cause certain organs to not function optimally.
The emotion tied to the gallbladder is anger and frustration or the feeling of feeling "stuck." An imbalanced gallbladder can be caused by longstanding feelings of repressed emotions.
So it is important to ask yourself where you feel stuck in life?
In western medicine we can look at the hormone cortisol. When the brain sends stress stimuli down to the adrenal glands, cortisol is produced. Interestingly, evidence shows that blockages in bile flow are also associated with states of dysfunctional communication between the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenals. (all responsible and influenced by cortisol).
As human beings we can't avoid having negative emotions but it is important to identify why we are feeling this emotions and what lifestyle changes can be made to address the root cause of why you feel this way instead of repressing your emotions leading to surges in cortisol.
5. Use Castor oil packs
Castor oil packs supports liver and gallbladder health. See post on Castor Oil Packs - An Easy Way To Improve Your Health.
6. Avoid Environmental Toxins
The environment in which we live is increasingly laden with toxins from our food, air, soil and water supply. A rapidly- growing body of research indicates that these toxins can have significant effects on our health and possibly the health of future generations.
Like previously discussed bile has a role in detoxification; by helping to remove toxins from the body and is critical to the detoxification of lipid-soluble toxins: mold toxins, pesticides, and industrial toxins. It is best to avoid these toxins and other hormone disrupting chemicals:
For more detailed information see my post on How to Avoid Hormone Disruptors.
7. Eat Cholagogue rich Foods. These are foods which support healthy gallbladder function and bile flow.
Bitter greens (arugula, dandelion greens)
8. Supplementing with Tudca:
Tauroursodeoxycholic acid or TUDCA is a vital bile acid that supports healthy bile flow. There are 6 ways that TUDCA goes to work right away as you start implementing it into your health plan:
Stimulates Bile Flow
Helps The Mitochondria In Your Liver Tissue
Reduces Liver Enzymes
Helps Your Intestines
Helps Protect You From Viruses
9. Supplementing with digestive enzymes, Hydrochloric acid (HCL), Ox bile or taurine:
Bile salts or ox bile (500–1,000 milligrams with meals) — Bile salts and ox bile might help improve the breakdown of fats and can greatly improve gallbladder distress. LV-GB Complex™ is a wonderful supplement made by Designs for Health. (you can access this product on my Fullscript Dispensary Website.
Using acupuncture or acupressure points are effective to move stagnated bile, enhance gallbladder function and improve vagus nerve function.
Modern research has shown that the vagus nerve is involved in the regulation of the gallbladder and the motor function of SO. (1,2)
Since stimulation of the vagus nerve has an excitatory effect on the gallbladder, the vagus nerve and the sympathetic nerve may co-regulate the contraction and relaxation of the gallbladder and the SO (sphincter of oddi) and promote the secretion of bile.
DIY ACUPUNCTURE/ACUPRESSURE POINT
Name: Dannang Xue
Traditionally indicated for gallbladder issues - acute cholecystitis, gallstones, post-surgical pain. Normalizes the contraction of the common bile duct, increases peristalsis, and thus reduces pain caused by cholecystitis. (1)
Tenderness on this point is diagnostically significant in Gallbladder inflammation. (2).
Found on the right leg, 1-2 thumb widths below GB34. Stimulate the area for 2-3 minutes.
1. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 2008; 28(3): 173-174 173. Thirty Cases of Chronic Cholecystitis Treated by Acupuncture and Oral Adiministration of Da Chai Hu Tang. Zhou Shenghong.
2. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 1980-01. Effect on the Contraction of Gall Bladder Induced by Stimulating Dannang Point with Acupuncture and Ultrasound. Zhang Jianqiu
If you already have had your gallbladder removed then you will likely need support at meals with digestive enzymes/ox bile, Tudca (from Cellcore biosciences - https://cellcore.com/products/tudca-plus ) and adjust amount of fat per meal to tolerance.
If you have stones that have blocked your duct and are causing you an emergency situation, call your doctor!
Questions? I would love to be able to assist you and optimize your liver and gallbladder functioning.
I offer a complimentary 15 minute virtual discovery call for new patients.
(I work with patients in person and virtually in Canada and the U.S)
Yuan-Gen, Z., Hui, B., Yan-Yan, Y. & Qing-Yan, X. Regulatory effect of electroacupuncture at Auriculo - body acupoints on the functions of the biliary system and actions of the vagus nerve. World Chinese Journal of Digestology 20, 552–557 (2012).
Purdy, M., Nykopp, T. K., Kainulainen, S. & Pääkkönen, M. Division of the hepatic branch of the anterior vagus nerve in fundoplication: effects on gallbladder function. Surgical endoscopy 23, 2143 (2009).